How to Make Tofu

japanese_silkytofu_kinugoshi_tofuI’m going to tell you how to make your own tofu. If you love tofu, (like me), this is the way to go.  If you only want to eat it once a year…don’t bother.

If you’re still reading this and haven’t skipped to the next section, I’ll assume you love tofu and want to learn how to make it.  Why make tofu yourself?  Because you want to experience it at its peak – freshly made, creamy, and subtly sweet.

Homemade tofu is as precious as homemade bread.  (I do that too!)

THE TOP THREE TOFU COAGULANTS

Nigari (magnesium chloride)

Characteristics:  Produces slightly sweet flavor; firmer tofu than gypsum yields.  Can be taken with water as a health supplement, but the flavor can be very bitter.  Nigari comes from the Japanese nigai, which means “bitter.”

Availability:  Clear liquid nigari is sold at many Japanese markets in small plastic bottles.  Purchase crystalline or granulated nigari from online vendors, who may also carry liquid nigari.  Check health food stores with macrobiotic sections.

Gypsum (calcium sulfate)

Characteristics:  Yields mild-tasting tofu that is slightly more tender than nigari tofu.  Adds a significant amount of calcium to tofu.

Availability:  Use food-grade gypsum, which is also used in beer making.  Home brewing suppliers sell gypsum and it is available online.  The gypsum sold at Chinese markets tends to have an odd perfume.

Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)

Characteristics:  Functions like gypsum but the resulting texture is slightly grainy.  Can be used to alleviate body aches, exfoliate, and relieve constipation.  Soak, drink, or scrub with it.

Availability:  Widely available and reasonably priced at drugstores and supermarkets.

TOFU ESSENTIALS: EQUIPMENT

Unless you are planning to make rectangular blocks of tofu, you can get by with basic kitchen equipment to make tofu.  Silken tofu and soft tofu pudding are prepared in a variety of containers and no special mold or mold lining cloth is required.  However, you’ll need the following items to handle the tasks involved.

Grinding Beans:

Blender:  A regular countertop blender, not the hand-held immersion kind, renders the soaked beans and water to a silky, thick mixture in no time.  A food processor can be used, too.

Cooking Soy Milk:

Large Pot:  To initially cook the soybean slurry, use a pot with a capacity of about two and a half times the amount of water that will be used.  For example, rich soy milk calls for 6 cups of water, so use a 4-quart pot.  A 6-quart pot is perfect for a batch of light soy milk.  If you double a recipe, remember to use larger pots.  A nonstick pot makes cleaning easier.

Smaller Pot:  To simmer the strained soy milk, find a pot that holds about 1 quart less than the larger pot.  For example, a 3-quart pot is plenty sufficient for a 31/4-cup batch of rich soy milk.  A 5-quart pot will accommodate a batch of light soy milk just fine.  Again, a nonstick pot helps reduce cleanup.

Wooden Spatula:  The shape of the spatula mimics a tofu maker’s stirring paddle; its flat edge is perfect for effectively stirring a pot of soy milk, cooling the soy milk, and adding coagulant.

Straining Soy Milk:

Large Colander or Mesh Strainer:  Choose a colander that is a little bigger than the smaller pot so that it fits inside but extends over the pot’s rim by about 1 inch.  Or use a sturdy mesh strainer.

Pressing Cloth:  Have a large piece of cotton cloth to press the soy milk through – a big square of lightweight unbleached muslin or an oversized non-terry cotton dishtowel.

Pressing Tool:  Use a potato masher; clean, empty wine bottle; or quart jar.

Shaping Regular and Firm Tofu

Mold:  Use a tofu pressing box made of wood or plastic, Japanese bamboo colander (zaru), or a small colander.  You can fashion a mold from two disposable aluminum loaf pans.  Use the tip of a paring knife to perforate the bottom and sides of one pan with holes, spaced about 1 inch apart, for drainage; use the other to weight down the curds.

Mold-Liner Cloth:  Use a piece of lightweight fabric, such as cotton voile or unbleached muslin; trim the fabric to a size roughly three times the length and width of your mold.

Ingredients:

SOYBEAN MILK:

  • 1 pound soybeans, uncooked, washed and soaked, water changed every few hours

HOMEMADE TOFU:

  • 2 quarts soybean milk
  • 4 teaspoons magnesium chloride

Directions:

SOYBEAN MILK:

TOFU MOLD:  Build a wooden frame from finished 3/4-inch thick lumber.  The open frame can be square or rectangular and have a height of 2-inches or more.  Build a pressing board (removable top) from the same lumber.  The dimensions of the top should be 1/2- inch smaller than the interior dimensions of the frame.  Two cross pieces can be used to hold the board together in the event two or more pieces of lumber were used to make it.  These cross pieces serve as handles to lift the board from the frame after the tofu is pressed.  The cross pieces should be located one inch from the edge of the board.

Soybean Milk:  Use a blender to make soybean milk in batches of one cup of soaked soybeans to three cups of water.  Each batch should run for at least 3 minutes.  Put the coarse soybean milk into a large pot and heat to a slow simmer.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Place a colander, covered with a clean kitchen towel, into a large pot or bowl.  Pour the hot soybean milk into the towel to strain the soybean milk.  A small amount of milk will drain via gravity; most must be forced out.  This should be done when the milk has cooled.  To do this, gather the edges of the towel to form a sealed ball.  Tighten the towel edges like a screw.  Use a spoon to scrape the outside of the ball to facilitate the flow.  Make certain that the bean residuals are trapped inside the ball.  Continue this process until the inside of the towel is nearly empty.

HOMEMADE TOFU:

Stirring frequently, heat the strained soybean milk to 180 degrees, remove from heat source.  A couple of different coagulants can be used to bind the soybean milk.  The most commonly available is Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), which can be purchased from drugstores.  I have found that magnesium chloride works better.  Mix the coagulant with 1/4-cup of water before adding it to the heated soybean milk.  Pour the mixture into the hot soybean milk a little at a time and observe.  The process is like thickening a sauce with a cornstarch slurry.  The milk will begin curdling.  The quantity of coagulant varies depending on the choice of chemical, the amount of soybean in the milk, and the desired firmness of the final product.  If a soft tofu is desired, curdling should be minimal; the curdling milk in the pot can still be stirred easily.  If a hard tofu is desired, the stirring becomes harder.

Put the tofu mold in the sink so the excess liquid can drain easily.  Cover the inside of the mold with rinsed cheesecloth, allowing at least 6-inches of extra cheesecloth for each side of the mold.  Pour the curdled soybean milk into the mold, then fold over the extra cheesecloth, sides first.  Place the pressing board on top of the cheesecloth.  Put a water-filled bowl or pot on top to exert pressure, remember that water is very heavy, a gallon of water weighs seven pounds.  The position of the weight should be adjusted so pressure on the tofu is uniform.  For soft tofu, a five-pound weight will be more than adequate – a pot plus two quarts of water will work fine.  The final firmness is also dependent on time.  For soft tofu, five minutes pressing will be sufficient.  For firmer tofu, more weight and longer time will be required.  When the tofu has reached the desired consistency lift the wrapped tofu from the mold and uncover it.  Tofu can be divided and the pieces stored in water in the refrigerator of up to one week.  Tofu can also be frozen.

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